Wednesday 21 August 2019

Michael Verney: 'Meyler's 'what-might-have-been' reign ends but who can take Rebels forward?'

John Meyler: No third term. Photo: Sportsfile
John Meyler: No third term. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

The last thing any sportsperson wants to be left contemplating over the winter is regrets that they aren't fulfilling their potential and that's a position which has become all too familiar for Cork's hurlers.

Last year the long and dark nights were filled with frustration after Nickie Quaid's mercurial flick on Seamus Harnedy denied them their place in hurling's showpiece before having to watch on in envy as the Treaty climbed to the pinnacle.

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This year will be a lot harsher as their hot-and-cold league campaign was transferred into the summer as they struggled for consistency, both between and during games.

They started like a house on fire in their All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Kilkenny but when the going got tough in the third quarter, they were never motoring and the Cats bullied them into submission before going on to dethrone the champions.

Former Tipperary goalkeeper Brendan Cummins regularly remarks that if hurling was played below the shoulder that Cork would lift Liam MacCarthy every year but that's not the way it goes and when the rough and tumble comes, they often don't meet fire with fire. If every game was played like an exhibition with teams going score for score and little in the way of physical warfare, no one could live with them but when a challenge is put into their face and warriors are required, they regularly come up short.

On paper, the talent is clearly there with the likes of Harnedy, Patrick Horgan, Alan Cadogan, Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon as good as there is around but they continue to underwhelm as a team when it matters most.

As John Meyler exited stage left yesterday having not sought a third year at the helm, the Rebels are at a bit of a crossroads as they face another new manager taking charge two years after Kieran Kingston also left following a similar spell in charge.

Kingston and Meyler both secured Munster titles and while provincial honours are always welcome, the Rebels' expectations are of bigger and better and this is the first decade since the competition commenced where they haven't won an All-Ireland senior hurling title.

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The first riddle that needs to be solved by Meyler's successor(s) is why their defence continues to leak a staggering amount of scores.

Disregarding their preliminary quarter-final defeat of Westmeath - even then they conceded 0-20 - their concession averaged 28.2 points per game this summer in five outings.

That gaping hole in the dam needs to be plugged and they must become more difficult to break down because there's no doubting the firepower up front. Any team would kill to have the riches they have in front of goal with Horgan becoming one of the best forwards of any era.

That leads to the question of who will fill the breach and lead Cork forward. It's no secret that Meyler was not the first choice when he assumed control and it's highly unlikely that they would even consider straying outside the county.

The plethora of talent coming through their underage ranks - much like their footballers - should ensure that they dine around the top table for a long time to come but the person steering the ship is crucial.

With Liam Sheedy's second coming working wonders in Tipperary after a year in the wilderness, perhaps John Allen or Donal O'Grady - the last men to lead them to the summit in 2004 and '05 respectively - could be tempted to take the reins once more and arrest their underachievement.

If a younger voice is sought to lead them forward then there is no shortage of candidates from their All-Ireland-winning sides of the mid-noughties with Pat Mulcahy (Cork IT) and Ben O'Connor (Charleville) two of many to serve successful apprenticeships.

Diarmuid O'Sullivan was well regarded for his work under Kingston, while Kieran 'Fraggy' Murphy was kindly received by players. And what of former goalkeeper Dónal Óg Cusack? Such a powerful figure throughout the Cork strikes, his involvement would be interesting.

Having served as a coach with Clare for two years, is he ready (and are the Cork board ready to leave the fractious relationship of the past) to play some part in what could be regarded as a 'dream team' with a host of his former team-mates?

Time will tell, but time is running out for this current crop and for Horgan to claim the Celtic Cross which his talent richly deserves.

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